Military spending makes up more than half of the annual discretionary government budget, yet the opinion of the American public is less represented than ever when it comes to the military.

War has not been officially declared by Congress since the U.S. entered World War II back in 1941, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. What about Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq? you might ask. Despite years of military presence in these places and many American casualties, none of these is considered a war. They were presidentially authorized military actions, but none of them involved formal declarations of war. Congress should reassert its power to declare war because without this power, our elaborate system of checks and balances is lopsided and the views of the American people are not accurately represented.

The system of checks and balances that is set up by our Constitution aims to prevent any one branch of government from acquiring too much power. The legislative branch makes laws, but the executive branch can veto them and the judicial branch can rule them unconstitutional. However, the executive branch appoints the members of the judicial branch, and the legislative branch must approve of these appointments. All of our government checks and balances work in this circular way, much like the child’s game of rock, paper, scissors.

The president is the commander in chief, but only Congress has the power to declare war. This check on presidential power is important because it prevents the president from using the military in a nondemocratic way – that is to say, it prevents the president from abusing his power over the military. At present, the president’s power over the military is not being checked. Though it is unlikely that our democratic republic will deteriorate into a military dictatorship right now, leaving presidential military power unchecked sets a bad precedent. In the future, our country could be more susceptible to such a coup.

In addition to setting a bad precedent, this lack of congressional approval of military actions also means that the voices of the American people are not being represented. When Congress had to vote to declare war, it was as though the American people were voting. More ideas, backgrounds and interests can be represented by the many members of Congress than by the president.

When the decision to take military action is made by one person, it isn’t as democratic as a decision made by a body of people would be. Congress has always been the people’s biggest voice in government, and neglecting their power to declare war is taking power away from the people.

It is clear that Congress’ power to declare war is central to our democracy. So why has Congress allowed it to slip from their grasp? The answer, in short, is that it’s easier to allow a presidential military action than to go through the process of getting a declaration of war through Congress.

Partisan politics have made congressional gridlock a common phenomenon. It is increasingly difficult to get any kind of legislation through Congress, much less a declaration of war.

Maine representatives in Congress can do two major things in order to help Congress reassert its power to declare war. First, war must be more clearly defined for the modern era. We don’t dig trenches anymore. We don’t use bayonets or storm beaches. Our military technology has evolved, so our definition of war must also evolve. War is now waged with drones. War is waged with chemicals, with politics, with information. Our definition of war must change if Congress is to have any hope of reasserting its constitutional powers. Our Maine congressional delegation can lead this effort to redefine war.

Secondly, partisan politics must be abandoned in order to effectively serve the people of the United States. This is where our Maine delegation can really take action. They can lead the way by showing that not all issues must be decided along party lines and that civility and cooperation – not petty disagreements and sectarian points of view – are what will make our government “great again.” In these ways, our Maine congressional delegation can make us proud by leading the way to reasserting Congress’ power to declare war and reclaiming democracy in the United States.